Rock star completes 1,360-mile run for charity

The front runner for Thailand’s most admired person in 2017 was easily Artiwara “Toon” Kongmalai, front man for the rock band Bodyslam, who ran 1,360 miles from the southern border to the edge of the far north over 55 days, raising over $33 million in donations to help 11 cash-strapped hospitals.

“My heart soars when I see us as one nation, helping one another where any amount, just a small contribution from the sincerity of one’s heart can make a difference,” the singer and guitar player said after completing his long distance journey. His run began in front of a boy’s orphanage in southern Yala province on the rainy morning of November 4.

Along the way, he inspired the Thai people with his selflessness and endurance as he ran the equivalent of a marathon every day, stopping every fifth day to rest and recover. Thais from all walks of life caught “Toon Fever,” lining the route to cheer him on. Some, including celebrities and other athletes, joined him to run parts of the way.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha welcomed him at Government House as he passed through Bangkok. Common people and celebrities responded to his effort by pledging donations to his cause, and the money he raised exceeded his goal of $20 million by more than half.

Throughout it all he remained humble. He told interviewers he was not doing it for popularity or admiration, that he was just “a regular guy running for a few days and was receiving recognition due instead to doctors and nurses who had to run all their lives helping sick or dying people.”

The 38-year-old artist was moved by the plight of mostly poor patients in rural hospitals who were unable to receive the treatment they needed because the facilities lacked funds for necessary medical equipment. Although Thailand has had a universal health care system since 2001, funding it has been a continuing challenge for successive governments, and some hospitals have been operating at a loss as they struggle to provide care for everyone in need.

This was Toon’s second run for charity. In December last year he ran 250 miles over 10 days from Bangkok down to Bang Saphan Hospital. He raised $2.55 million for the hospital to purchase medical equipment and improving the severe overcrowding.

Although slim as a rail, Toon is no lightweight. The former flight attendant also holds a law degree, and his alternative rock band Bodyslam has released six top-selling albums over the years.

He auctioned off four of the five pairs of Nike running shoes he wore on what Nike called his “epic run,” raising over $134,606. The United States-based company provided him with logistical support.

“To assist him in achieving his goal by helping maximize his performance and minimize his risk of injury during his journey, Nike invited Toon to its World Headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. To discover and enhance what best aided him as a runner, experts, including a team from the Nike Sports Research Lab and apparel and footwear specialists, conducted analyses on Toon to gain insights into his pace, heart rate, fluid and calorie requirements and recovery modalities, as well as what shoes and apparel could best support him throughout his runs,’’ the company said on its website.

The 11 hospitals that will receive a share of the funds raised by Artiwara’s run are: Saraburi Hospital, Surat Thani Hospital, Khon Kaen Hospital, Chaophraya Yommaraj Hospital, Nakornping Hospital, Chiangrai Prachanukroh Hospital, Chaopraya Abhaiphubejhr Hospital, Ratchaburi Hospital, Nan Hospital, Phramongkutklao Hospital and Yala Hospital.